July 1st, 2013
Since February 2012 I’ve been hosting a Skeptic Bible Study on our Skeptic Meetup group, Southeastern Virginia Skeptics. While some people consider a non-believer bible study to be an oxymoron, it’s actually a great opportunity for skeptics of all backgrounds to examine the bible as a text and as the basis of a belief. As skeptics we have a unique view of Biblical material and reading it without religious rose-tinted glasses makes quite a difference.
Why study the Bible?
Some skeptics come from religious backgrounds. A lot of us who were indoctrinated as children were force fed watered-down nicey-nice versions of biblical stories. Reading what the text actually says and all of the ridiculous statements it makes is nothing short of bizarre and shocking. There are so many little details that are conveniently left out of biblical teachings, that reading the source material can be staggeringly different.
Also, a lot of people who were once religious were never allowed to ask questions or point out contradictions in the Bible. Here, you can say whatever you want. We want you to ask questions and examine the text and really think about what the Bible says, not just what you’ve been told that it says.
How do you study the Bible?
How we run our Bible study is that I read the book or books that we have selected for the month and highlight things that are interesting, funny, strange, contradictory, or in some way pique my interest. Then at the study we go over the book and discuss the story and what I’ve highlighted. Lots of members bring their own Bibles to the meeting so that they can follow along and bring up topics that they want to talk about or discuss their personal reactions to stories.
We also have some people who are well versed in Biblical history and traditions, so we sometimes discuss the culture surrounding the Bible. Also, a lot of us have heard attempts to explain away atrocious acts that are recorded in the Bible, so we talk about whether or not the explanation is valid, what alternative explanations could be and what we personally believe about that specific story.
What is the point of a Skeptic Bible Study?
One thing I have always believed is that you shouldn’t dislike something or disagree with something that you don’t know anything about. For me to reject Biblical teachings, I actually have to know what they are. So we are examining the text for what it actually says and whether or not we agree with it from a skeptical viewpoint. We want evidence of God’s supposed supernatural powers and explanations of how the world works. What can the Bible offer to convince a non-believer?
In our Bible Study, we don’t have the objective of keeping parishioners in pews. Our goal is to educate and enlighten. In our studies we’ve found the Biblical justifications for things like faith healing, genocide, rape, murder, and hating fig trees. After studying the Bible, we are much better prepared for discourse about it.
Tips for attending a Skeptic Bible Study
-Don’t purchase a Bible. Get them free from most hotel rooms or download a free e-version on Amazon. Many group members have old Bibles that they were given as children or used in their previous life as a believer. Bring those along. No one needs to add to the Bible’s already ridiculous sales.
-Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. It doesn’t matter if someone has already stated that they disagree with what you have to say. All arguments are welcome and encouraged. Unlike a church Bible Study, dissent and debate is encouraged. We’re not here to talk about how great god is, we’re here to learn and look at things from different points of view. So as need to hear all of those points of view.
-Understand that everyone has a different religious (or non-religious) background than you do. There will be a lot of unique ways that Biblical stories can be interpreted and different sects of Christianity will have different methods of deciphering it. No matter how insane something sounds, be respectful of the speaker and acknowledge that yes, there are people out there who actually believe that.
-Know that sometimes shit in the Bible just doesn’t make sense. Some stories in the Bible aren’t exactly clear or uncomplicated. Others are weird and involve talking animals. For all we can discuss and make sense of it, the Bible is still confusing, strange and occasionally impossible to follow.
-Be prepared to have fun. At our Bible Studies we always have lots of laughter and sarcasm. It’s an awesome time for everyone and tangents are a frequent thing.